04/07/2017

Robots Rising: Here’s What Happens To All Those Truckers

James Pethokoukis, Ricochet

Techno-pessimists tend to be underwhelmed by recent innovations, like the smartphone, as well as most upcoming ones, like driverless cars. Especially driverless cars, it seems. In “The Rise and Fall of American Growth,” economist Robert Gordon is dismissive of the productivity impact of all sorts of emerging technologies, including artificial intelligence and robotics. And he puts driverless cars right smack at the bottom: “This category of future progress is demoted to last place because it offers benefits that are minor compared to the innovation of the car itself or the improvements in safety that have created a ten-fold improvement in fatalities per vehicle mile since 1950.”

I don’t know how autonomous vehicles will affect measured productivity data. But they are going to be a pretty big deal, nonetheless. And I doubt too many analysts have thought through potential consequences as thoroughly as Benedict Evans of venture firm Andreessen Horowitz. His recent blog post, “Cars and second order consequences” is a must read on the subject. The first order consequences of electric — and they will be electric — autonomous vehicles are obvious. Fewer highway fatalities and a big drop in demand for gasoline, currently half of global oil production.

But what about the next order consequences? For instance, gas stations go away, but over half of US tobacco sales happen at gas stations, and they’re often an impulse purchase. Evans: “Car crashes kill 35k people a year in the USA, but tobacco kills 500k.” I wonder what happens to healthcare costs?

Anyway, lots in the post about road congestion, parking, municipal tax bases, housing costs, and where people choose to live. One other thing I wanted to highlight was the impact on jobs. What about all the truckers when their vehicles turn driverless? 

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